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Talk about sex before tying the knot

Healthy communication about sex increases relationship satisfaction. Start these discussions early to create a common understanding about your sex life with your partner.

Honest, forthcoming conversations about sex should start early in your relationship—before you tie the knot—to establish a strong foundation. Good communication about sex in a romantic partnership can lead to greater sexual satisfaction and a more fulfilling relationship.

Physical affection and sex are important parts of developing and sustaining a romantic connection. Intimacy builds through both communication and sex—and partners who talk often about sex are more satisfied in their relationship and sex life. Talking early during your relationship, whether you already have an active sex life or you’re waiting for marriage, establishes a mutual understanding of expectations. When couples struggle with sex and intimacy, relationship satisfaction can decline and partners might opt to go their separate ways.

Physically satisfying sex requires coordination and communication between partners. Talking with your significant other about sex enables you to plan sexual encounters and explore how your partner likes sex to be initiated. As you grow as a couple, you create a shared meaning about your joint sex life. Open discussions ensure you both remain engaged and content. Disclosing your desires and fantasies with your partner and listening in return is an opportunity for connection. When a relationship develops into marriage and then possibly parenthood, a couple’s sex and sexuality are likely impacted. Having a strong foundation of healthy communication about sex from the beginning can help you persevere through relationship transitions.

Talking about sex early also enables you and your partner to establish the mutual value of sexual health and discuss any sexual health risks you might experience. Begin by being forthcoming about your sexuality and sexual history. If you have concerns about sexually transmitted diseases, know the signs, prevention and risk factors, and treatment options.

HPRC offers concrete skills to help you talk about your sex needs. Check out our FAQ section for more about sex, intimacy, and sexuality. If you’re unsure how to have these conversations with your partner, consider seeking premarital education or counseling.

Seeing differences differently

Learn how your own perception clouds accuracy to help you be more mindful and open to interpreting differences in the world.

Your human nature can prevent you from being open to diversity and differences, but you can learn to overcome this. Diversity is a strength—of this nation and its military—and navigating differences in beliefs, values, and perceptions begins with challenging your own assumptions about how you see others and the world. However, despite living in an increasingly global environment characterized by ever-broadening horizons, many still struggle with viewing differences as an asset to be explored rather than a weakness to be fixed. HPRC offers a few strategies to help raise your self-awareness and promote openness, accuracy, and flexibility. Read more...

Show concern about your partner’s weight

During Healthy Weight Week, find out how you can best support your partner’s healthy eating goals.

If you’re wondering how to talk with your partner about his or her weight, resist the urge to control or criticize. Instead, express genuine concern, and focus on healthy, sustainable changes that you can make together.

Couples typically share similar values and engage in activities together, so you’re more likely to impact each other’s health habits. Yet criticism about weight can be a source of conflict between some couples, which can affect your otherwise fulfilling relationship.

When one partner is at a healthy weight and one is overweight, there’s a greater chance for conflict, especially when they eat together. If one tries to restrict the other’s eating, things become less enjoyable. You might argue more too.

Try to be supportive about your loved one’s health issues. It’s most helpful when your message expresses caring and closeness. Be in tune with your partner’s needs if she or he is asking for your help with making healthier habits. Try being an “accountability” partner and help keep your partner on track towards his or her goals. Establish mutual goals you can work on to help improve your health and wellness too.

Some phrases to avoid include:

  • “You’re going to eat that?”
  • “Maybe you should stop eating.”
  • “You’re going to gain more weight if you keep eating so much.”

Some supportive phrases to try include:

  • “Let’s both commit to healthy eating in the new year.”
  • “Since you’ve expressed wanting to eat healthier, how can I help?”
  • “I know you’re trying hard to eat healthier, and it’s not easy. I’m proud of your efforts. Let’s continue in a positive direction.”

Create healthy lifestyle changes together. Pack nutritious lunches and snacks for work or school, and prepare well-balanced meals. Check with your installation about couples cooking classes and other wellness activities offered through Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) programs too. And check out HPRC’s ABCs of Nutrition page and videos for more ideas.

Infidelity 101

Infidelity is a concern for some military couples. Read about what leads someone to cheat, why infidelity hurts so much, how it impacts a relationship, and where to turn for help.

Some service members and their partners worry about infidelity, especially during deployments. Warfighters also can experience many mental stressors in the months after their return, which can make their relationships vulnerable to infidelity.

  • What leads someone to cheat? If you’re unhappy in your marriage or don’t have sex very often, you’re more likely to cheat. Those who feel powerful also are more likely to be unfaithful now or in the future. If your friends, family members, or coworkers support your infidelity, you’re more likely to cheat too.
  • Why is infidelity hurtful? Sexual faithfulness in a relationship is related to trust, respect, and intimacy. Infidelity damages the emotional foundation of a relationship, and it can feel like an intense betrayal of your agreement to trust and respect each other.
  • What’s the impact? Both men and women experience the pain of infidelity. Discovering your partner has been unfaithful can lead to a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, anxiety, or jealousy. Infidelity can lead to increased conflict and poor communication in a relationship too. Cheating increases unhappiness in a relationship and can lead some to contemplate divorce. Service members whose partners were unfaithful during deployment tend to experience more depression symptoms. And if a service member experienced trauma while deployed, then having an unfaithful partner can make things worse.
  • What if I’m worried about infidelity? If you’re concerned about infidelity in your relationship, keep in mind that help is available. HPRC’s Sex, Sexuality, & Intimacy section offers guidance on talking to your partner about sex and building intimacy in your relationship. DoD also offers professional counseling services over the phone, online, and through video chat. Or connect with a Military and Family Life counselor who specializes in couple relationships. You can meet alone, or with your partner, to discuss how to manage your worries about infidelity.

Bounce back after a breakup

Everyone experiences a breakup differently. Some people are able to rebound quickly, while others struggle with intense emotions and insecurity. If you’re having a hard time moving on, keep reading.

The loss of a romantic relationship—whether through divorce, separation, or breakup—is a distressing event. It sometimes can be challenging to move on, especially for those who might question their self-worth.

Be aware of your anxiety. Highly anxious people tend to be more emotional after a breakup. They might become preoccupied with what happened and sometimes turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to self-soothe. Effectively managing your anxiety means you’ll be better able to leverage the breakup and improve yourself.

Focus on personal growth: Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this experience?” Maybe this breakup will help you clarify future expectations of your romantic partners. Perhaps you can reframe being “alone” as now having more time to be with friends and family. Write out what led to the breakup to help lessen negative thoughts about your split too.

When your relationship ends, it doesn’t have to mean you lose sight of your own goals. If your ex didn’t help you meet your goals or wasn’t supportive of your pursuits, then breaking up can help you shift your focus to what you want to achieve on your own. Concentrate on finding new, more effective sources of support as you move towards reaching your goals.

Expect other relationships to change too. Particularly after a divorce, it’s likely that you’ll lose contact with some people, including your in-laws or your ex-partner’s friends. Yet, you’re also likely to meet new people and expand your social network. You might find comfort in new friendships with others going through similar situations as well. And soon enough, you’ll be ready to date again.

Treat your partner right

New Year’s Day brings an increased risk of mistreating loved ones. Instead, commit to taking care of each other through healthy communication and respectful conflict resolution.

Partner maltreatment—also known as intimate partner violence (IPV) or domestic violence—tends to peak on holidays and weekends, and one date is quickly approaching: New Year’s Day. Commit to respecting and taking care of each other in the new year and beyond.

IPV can include physical violence, emotional or psychological abuse, or sexual harm within a relationship. By some estimates, partner maltreatment rates are nearly 3 times higher among military veterans and active-duty service members than civilians.

Weekends and holidays often mean more time with significant others. For some, time away from work also can coincide with increased use of drugs or alcohol. There’s some evidence that IPV spikes in military households on weekends, New Year’s Day, 4th of July, and Super Bowl Sunday. In addition, drug and alcohol use tends to increase alongside more reports of IPV.

Depression, antisocial traits, and marital problems also are linked to increased instances of domestic abuse. Combat exposure and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are associated with partner maltreatment as well. Women might be just as likely to maltreat their partners. Yet when females become victims, they tend to sustain more serious injuries than males. In some relationships, both partners can be violent towards each other too.

IPV can lead to physical, emotional, and psychological injuries. If you have children, they’re at increased risk of abuse as well. If you’re concerned about your own alcohol or drug use, take the Alcohol and Drugs Assessment at AfterDeployment.com to better understand how it can affect your relationships. Domestic violence resources and reporting options also are available for military families. So, start the new year by practicing healthy communication and conflict resolution skills with your partner.

Non-traditional gifts worth giving

HPRC Fitness Arena: Mind Body, Total Force Fitness
This holiday season, try giving in ways that can make a lasting impact on your loved ones and yourself, and enhance your relationships. Learn more.

Gift giving is a hallmark of the holiday season, even though it often involves high levels of stress, long lines, and a drain on your wallet. So, make an impact: Instead of focusing on “stuff”—such as the latest video game, gadget, or toy—consider these alternatives and make your gifts more meaningful.

  • Buy experiences, not things. Get tickets to a show, museum membership, or weekend adventure and invest in your connections and shared experiences with friends and family. Nothing can replace those special moments.
  • Think: Less is more. Materialism is linked to lower well-being. When you try to “keep up with the Joneses,” focus on getting stuff, or compare what you have to what others have, you might experience the very opposite of the joy you expect to feel. Financial responsibility begins at a young age too. Are children on your gift list? Reduce “the gimmes” and increase gratitude by giving them less and teaching them to appreciate what they have more.
  • Give where you live. Grab a friend, partner, or your kids and volunteer your time to a shared cause. You might not think of your time and talent as a gift, but volunteering fosters empathy and perspective. And these qualities are needed, especially during these times. Remember that volunteering is a two-way street: It can improve your sense of meaning, purpose, connection to something larger than yourself, and health while you help others in your community and beyond.

Material things can bring brief happiness, but shared experiences bring long-lasting satisfaction that’s more fulfilling. This holiday season, try to give non-traditional gifts that can ease your financial burden while strengthening the well-being of those around you.

Deployment injuries, sex, and intimacy

How does a couple keep their relationship strong through separations and deployments? How can deployment-related injuries affect their sex life? Learn how spouses and partners can help.

Service members returning from deployment often have a difficult time being intimate with their partners. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), amputations, Agent Orange exposure (Vietnam era), and chronic pain all can affect sexual functioning and relationships. Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans and service members with PTSD likely have at least one sexual problem. In addition, changes in sex hormones (such as thyroid-stimulating hormone, testosterone, and estrogen) might appear after a TBI, which can negatively influence sexual functioning. There also is continued encouragement for DoD and VA to communicate about sexual concerns with wounded service members and veterans. Read more...

Stepmothers

A stepmother can significantly impact her stepchildren’s lives. Understanding her role in the family is an important first step.

It can be challenging to explain and understand a stepmother’s responsibilities when a new stepfamily is formed, but there are ways to support her “new” parenting role. Stepfamilies form when a child’s mother or father marries someone after his or her relationship with the child’s other parent has ended.

It’s important for stepmothers to build strong relationships with their stepchildren, but this sometimes can be tricky. A stepmother often has to strike a balance between bonding with her stepchildren while also respecting the limitations of not being a biological parent, especially when her stepchildren’s other parent remains active in their lives. Stepmothers sometimes can feel confused about what their roles should be, and this can lead to insecurity. Stepmoms also might feel they’re expected to do many household and childcare tasks even though they’re not considered parents. It can be hard for a stepmother to see her spouse’s involvement with the children—playing a role she’s unable to play—and continued contact with the children’s other parent too. And stepchildren can feel unsure about how their stepmother will fit into their lives.

Still, when stepfamilies live together at least half-time, stepmothers tend to be happier in their marriages and closer to their stepchildren. Successful stepmothers develop a parental mindset and work to define their roles in their new families. In addition, communication that focuses on strong listening skills and avoids criticism or contempt can help a stepmother and her spouse agree on her role and how they’ll support each other as parents and partners.

Adult-sibling relationships

Sibling relationships are bound to change over time, especially during adulthood. A supportive relationship with your brother or sister is good for your emotional health. Learn more.

Siblings provide companionship throughout your life if you maintain a connection, especially during your deployment. If you have a brother or sister, your relationship with your sibling(s) can be supportive and satisfying as you age.

Sibling connections are unique in that they often are your longest, enduring relationships. Sibling ties also are involuntary: You don’t get to choose your brothers or sisters. And as a child, whether or not you realized it, your siblings influenced how you socialized with others, your vocabulary, and how you managed conflict.

As you grow older, sibling relationships can change along with the life events you experience. Particularly between the ages of 18 and 25, when siblings often move away from home, the involuntary nature of the relationship shifts to one that might be worthwhile. Older siblings who move away might leave their younger siblings feeling a sense of loss in their absence, perhaps as they head off to boot camp or basic training. It’s normal for these close-knit connections to dip in early adulthood as you live on your own, start a career, and form new relationships.

Yet most sibling relationships stabilize into adulthood—and that’s good for your health! A supportive, affectionate relationship with your sibling can boost happiness and self-esteem and decrease loneliness. It can protect you from developing depression during stressful life events too.

No matter how far apart you live from your sisters or brothers, a strong sibling relationship is still possible. So, stay in touch with your siblings during your deployment and otherwise.

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